Since graduating university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and educator. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
Having worked in yards, kayaked, cycled, played tennis and generally experienced the outdoor life in Florida for nearly 10 years, I sometimes feel like I've been bitten or stung by pretty much every insect that the Sunshine State has to offer.
This article lists 10 common bugs that can bite or sting you in Florida.
10 Bugs That Bite or Sting in Florida
- Biting Midges (No-Seeums)
- Red Fire Ants
- Bed Bugs
- Florida Carpenter Ants
- Bees and Wasps
- Yellow Flies
I will discuss each bug listed in more detail below.
1. Biting Midges (No-Seeums)
Also known as sandflies and no-seeums, midges are tiny insects that swarm. As well as being very annoying, there are some varieties of this bug that bite. If you are unlucky enough to encounter them, the chances are that you won't be just bitten once, as the entire swarm will seek to join the feast.
Midges like being close to water: especially salt marshes, mangrove swamps and other humid environments. They are particularly prevalent at sunrise and sunset.
Their bites will cause a burning sensation, followed by the appearance of a small red welt at the bite site. The only good news is that unlike some other biting insects, such as mosquitoes, midges do not spread diseases.
2. Red Fire Ants
Originally from South America, red fire ants have become very common in Florida. Their bites cause painful lesions, followed around a day later by the appearance of white pustules on the skin. The post-bite itching is often worse than the pain of the bite, in my experience, as it goes on much longer.
These ants find plenty of opportunities to live around humans: they make their mounds in lawns and set up home under patio slabs, the edges of sidewalks, and concrete driveways. If it rains heavily, they look for higher ground and will sometimes come indoors.
Mosquito bites can be very uncomfortable and sometimes result in the transmission of viruses. It's the female mosquito that does the biting. They release saliva into the bite area, and it's this saliva that can cause the allergic reaction that some people get following being bitten. Typically a puffy bump forms on the skin straight after the bite and gradually swells, reddens, hardens, and becomes itchy.
Mosquito-borne diseases found in Florida include Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus disease, and St. Louis encephalitis.
There are a number of ways to avoid or reduce mosquito bites:
- Stay away from mosquito-infested areas.
- Stay inside during dawn and dusk.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored, protective clothing.
- Use mosquito repellent.
4. Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are good at hiding in places like beds, furniture, clothing, and bags. These insects feed on people when they are asleep at night. They are so elusive that often the only way that you know you have a problem is from finding their bites later.
Infestations can be truly awful, because they often go undetected initially, and by the time they are discovered, the population is large and difficult to wipe out without considerable expense and disruption. According to the Orkin top 50 rankings in 2016, the worst cities in Florida for bed bugs are Tampa, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale.
If you are a visitor to Florida, it's wise to:
- Check your hotel room for signs of infestation, inspecting potential hiding spots for bed bugs.
- Check your luggage after a trip, bed bugs are hitchhikers and can travel via the luggage or clothing of their host.
- When you return from a trip, put all your dryer-safe clothing in the dryer at the hottest temperature advisable.
5. Florida Carpenter Ants
Carpenter ants get their name from their fondness for making their nests in rotting wood. They can't sting but will bite if they feel they or their nest is under threat. Their mandibles are large and capable of breaking human skin.
While their bites are not as itchy or long-lasting as those from red ants (see #2), they do still cause intense localized pain due to the formic acid that they inject into the bite site. Don't be too alarmed though, the bites are non-venomous and pose no serious health threats to people or pets.
6. Bees and Wasps
Bees and wasps can cause painful stings individually, but it's getting multiple stings from a swarm that you should really be wary of. Most species are social and are fond of making their homes on or around human structures. If they feel that their home is threatened, they will attack, using the injection of a venom that is a nerve poison. In extreme circumstances, if the victim has a rare allergy, or there are a massive number of stings, the results can even be fatal.
Ticks are closely related to spiders and mites, and can transfer some pretty serious diseases to humans. Four types of tick that you should be particularly aware of in Florida are: the lone star tick, the American dog tick, the blacklegged tick, and the Gulf Coast tick.
- Lone star ticks are the most common human-biting tick in Florida and carry and transmit ehrlichiosis and southern tick-associated rash illness.
- American dog ticks are mainly found on dogs, but will also attach to other large mammals, including humans. They can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). They can also cause paralysis in dogs and children when they attach to the base of the skull or the spinal column.
- Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are carriers of Lyme disease, babesiosis and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA).
- Gulf Coast ticks are found in grass prairies and coastal uplands, they are common in the southeastern states of the USA, including Florida, and can carry Rickettsia parkeri, a less serious relative of RMSF.
Chiggers aren't insects, but a type of mite that is most commonly found in low, damp areas where there is heavy vegetation. They attach themselves to human skin with their piercing mouth parts, but they don't feed on blood. Instead, they inject a fluid into the skin, which dissolves tissue. They then suck up the resulting liquefied tissues.
They usually die quickly because of the human immune reaction, but the bites cause uncomfortable welts to appear about 4 to 8 hours later. Once present, these welts may last for as long as two weeks. If you do suspect that you have suffered a chigger attack, you should take a hot bath or shower and lather yourself with soapy water. Your clothes should be washed in hot, soapy water too.
The best way to avoid chigger bites is to cover yourself up when going into areas of heavy vegetation and to use an insect repellent.
9. Yellow Flies
Yellow fly is the name used by ordinary Floridians to describe a highly aggressive species of yellow-bodied biting horse-fly. As with mosquitoes, it's the females that do the biting. The blood is needed by them to help their eggs develop.
Yellow flies are particularly abundant during the summer months, when the weather is at its hottest, and are active during the daytime. These insects benefit from Florida's mild climate and wet undeveloped areas, which helps them to breed.
The best way to protect yourself from them is to wrap up and wear long sleeves, pants and closed-toe shoes.
Florida has numerous types of spider, many of which will bite if they feel threatened. Three that you should be particularly aware of are: wolf spiders, widows, and brown recluses.
- Although wolf spiders are large and ferocious looking, they shy away from humans. If you are unlucky enough to make one feel trapped, they will bite. Their venom can paralyze an insect, but is not considered to be very toxic to humans. The bite will hurt at about the level of a bee sting.
- Florida is home to four species of widow spider. These spiders are timid, but if you touch a female accidentally, then you may get bitten. A bite from this spider can cause humans intense pain, as widow venom is very toxic. Other symptoms of a bite can include nausea, muscle cramps, and sweating. You should seek immediate medical attention if bitten by a widow.
- Recluse spiders are not native to Florida and are rarely found in the state. According to the University of Florida, the vast majority of sightings are cases of misidentification. Those sightings that are genuine are almost always isolated incidents of recluses being accidentally brought in from other states by travelers, or via cargo transported from other places. It is perhaps best to err on the side of caution though if you believe that a spider may be a recluse, as these spiders have a venomous bite that can put you in hospital or worse.
- BITING & STINGING INSECTS - University of Florida IFAS Extension
- Bed bugs are a problem in these Florida cities - The Palm Beach Post
- Ouch! Something’s Biting Me! - Florida Pest Control
- Ticks in Florida - Florida Health
- Is it true that there are brown recluse spiders in Florida? - University of Florida
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Paul Goodman
Anthony on August 19, 2020:
Images would have helped/.......
AntThorny on July 07, 2020:
Hey Tamara. I live in ft myers as well. Was bitten on my back by something while sleeping. Pain all over my back right side, feels like I’m being stabbed with a needle. I can’t think of anything that carries what you described. Hope you are feeling much better, let me know if the pain has subsided. Mine is really bad. Be safe.
Tamara on June 17, 2020:
I live in Fort Myers Florida. I was bitten/stung last week by something on the inside of my knee. The pain was an intense sharp pain that shot down my leg to my foot. I had pants on and pushed on it to try and kill whatever it was. I lifted my pant leg and found a pretty good-sized puncture hole with a light brown piece of whatever got me still attached. I removed. The site kept swelling up and I started getting nauseous. Ended up in urgent care. the doctor felt it and said it feels like there is something still in there. She got tweezers and pulled out a thin, dark black string looking thing. Does anyone know what possibly bit me? I still have a puncture mark and hurts all the way to the bone still. Doctor put me on antibiotics and a steroid cream and it is not infected.
Lorna Lamon on August 21, 2019:
I thought Australia had lots of nasty bugs, however, Florida has its fair share as well. Great article full of good information and tips on what to do if you are unlucky enough to be bitten.
Liz Westwood from UK on August 20, 2019:
This is not an article for the squeamish or faint-hearted. It's amazing how many bugs there are.
RTalloni on August 20, 2019:
It is a full time job to avoid the biting/stinging things in the tropics as one must remain alert to their presence. It only takes a little experience with them to convince the doubtful!